Crypto ZR is the pseudonym of Liu Jiaying, an artist who uses blockchain technology to explore the nature of human connection, civilization and language in the era of rapid development of the Internet and virtual reality. In 2021 she held a major solo exhibition at the Guardian Art Center in Beijing (Crypto ZR: Cookie Cookie), followed by another in Venice in 2022 (CRYPTO ZR: COOKIE COOKIE 2.0). “Arrival”, curated by Li Zhenhua, is a crypto art project that showcases the artist’s work in recent years. It was exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in London between May 26 and 28. Through film, Crypto ZR invited the audience to immerse themselves in a digital experience based on algorithms and virtual reality to discuss the issues of the global economy and human nature. I spoke with the artist about crypto art and its place in today’s world.
Aleksandra Mainka-Pawlowska: “Arrival” explores human connections and how anonymous users interact online. Do you think these virtual interactions mirror the physical world? Or maybe technology has created a new space where we cannot apply traditional psychology and sociology?
CryptoZR: I believe that as long as the realm can be reached through human consciousness, psychology and sociology will exist whether or not it is in virtual space. Take my artwork ‘Greed Is Good’ for example. By adjusting the smart contract, I changed the working mechanism of this currency. Instead of deducting the payer’s balance and increasing the payee’s balance, I modified the transaction registration rule to simultaneously increase both parties’ balances. Using this rule, an address could increase its balance to more than a hundred billion within 24 hours. This artwork can be seen as an appeal to human greed, which ultimately renders the currency worthless. I have also created other works on the blockchain, such as “100 Days” and “Red N Blue”, which introduce chance events to virtual space. The participants determine the meaning and direction of the artworks, which can be analyzed through psychology and sociology.
AMP: In your work you use blockchains and cryptocurrency – how do you adapt these technologies to create new meanings?
CryptoZR: Cryptocurrency is part of the cypherpunk movement, which has an ideology centered on privacy and cryptography as a tool to support this ideology. Cryptography applied to currency spawned cryptocurrencies, aiming to achieve the inviolability of personal property. The smart contracts on blockchain have enabled new possibilities for defining the functionalities of innovative cryptographic assets. In my artwork ‘TopBidder’ I have created a unique form of assets: NFTs that cannot be collected. This type of NFT asset is designed based on the radical market theory, where anyone who bids more than 10% above the previous bid can acquire the asset. The added value generated from the bidding process is distributed among the NFT issuer, the previous owner and the protocol developer at a ratio of 50%, 30% and 20% respectively. This allows the artist to receive perpetual royalties and allows NFT artwork to circulate freely, no longer restricted by individual collectors.
I am fascinated by the use of blockchain technology for artistic conceptual creation. It is critical in this era to use unprecedented tools, mediums, materials and languages to engage in discussions of human themes. Creating works of art that explore issues related to currency, transactions, consensus, free will, exploitation, and human nature using the technological features of blockchain is a natural progression in this context.
AMP: Cryptoart, like cryptocurrency, changes with time. Do you consider your works “finished” at any point or do you allow your art to form and recreate itself without any interruption?
CryptoZR: In my experiments, the “Red N Blue” artwork was intentionally released in an unfinished state. If no collectors participate in the auction and bid, the artwork remains incomplete because it lacks the defining interpretations of collectors. On the other hand, in my artwork “1000EYE”, although all NFTs have been sold, there are plans to gradually reveal relevant tags about the 1000 individuals associated with the artwork at the appropriate time. This artwork is still in development.
As for my latest creation in 2023, “Solo Mining”, what random on-chain events it can generate after release remains unknown. That’s why I purposely don’t finish all my artworks completely. Instead, I open up the results to the participants of the blockchain community depending on the direction and nature of each piece of art.
AMP: Technology and virtual reality remain largely unknown territory. Do you think artists whose work pushes technological boundaries can help others understand the contemporary world through their art?
CryptoZR: In reality, most people are already immersed in virtual reality to some degree. Today’s virtual reality experience is limited to the size of screens and smartphones have become an essential part of the human body. With the gradual improvement of VR devices, the landscapes within the virtual world will become more and more realistic. Artists pushing the boundaries of technology can use this space to better communicate their concepts. Combining the virtual space with cryptocurrency forms the metaverse, where people can engage in social activities such as building digital galleries, attending art shows and trading NFT artwork.
The contemporary world is at a crossroads between reality and virtuality. Silicon-based life forms, represented by cryptocurrencies and AI, are on the rise. It is crucial for artists to think about how to understand and respond to the relationship between these entities and humanity, and to convey this dynamic through art. This is an area artists should consider and explore.
AMP: One of the themes in your art is the anonymity and alienation of the digital world that deprives users of their identities. Does that match the name CryptoZR you use as an artist?
CryptoZR: Just as many people do not use their real names on the internet, anonymity is a common need of individuals. People prefer not to play the same role online as they do in the physical world. Moreover, anonymity is a fundamental feature of cryptoculture. Many renowned crypto art artists choose to remain anonymous or use pseudonyms. “CryptoZR” is my code name in the crypto world, representing my identity as an artist and distinguishing it from my personal roles in other domains.
AMP: Your works are created online and exist in virtual reality – how do you overcome the boundaries of physical space and present them to your audience in gallery spaces?
CryptoZR: As for how to demonstrate in the physical world, I have already addressed these issues in my first solo exhibition at the Guardian Art Center in Beijing in 2021. The exhibition can take the form of sculptures, interactive videos, live auctions and virtual VR worlds, as well as on-site currency distribution and on-site private key decryption. I am excited about the integration of these virtual worlds into reality. You can refer to the site for the experience on site. https://www.artexb.com/pano/COOKIE_COOKIE